Dead Branch Ranch
The saying “perseverance furthers” dates back thousands of years and has been expressed variously in different ways by many different cultures. As folk wisdom, it remains applicable today, despite the frenetic pace of our modern, digitally interconnected world.
Through a desire to create slower, more meaningful lives for themselves, and as the result a few hard-earned lessons learned, it also summarizes the experiences of Marie and Jaya Weiss, partners and co-owners of Dead Branch Ranch, a 90-acre, off-grid, micro-farm located in Pompey, NY.
Purchased originally in the 1980s, Marie inherited the farm after her husband Craig’s death in 2015. Named Dead Branch Ranch in reference to the large, un-managed woodlot on the property, Marie and Jaya, a union carpenter and mason, respectively, first tried their hands at farming in 2019, and then began raising rabbits in 2020. Their initial goals were simple: to provide food for themselves and to sell or share any surplus product with neighbors, to transition the land back to a working farm, and to become as self-sufficient as possible. Marie neatly summarized their vision: “Being able to provide for one’s own food requirements creates a great sense of appreciation and freedom.”
Simple goals, however, often run headlong into unforeseen complications. There were numerous federal and state regulations that needed to be addressed, from the types and numbers of animals that could be raised and slaughtered on farm, to specific methods of processing and storage, to where and to whom these products could be sold. Beyond that, there were the basic issues all beginning farmers face of crop planning, land and livestock management, locating regional off-farm resources, planning on-farm infrastructure, and figuring out how to pay for it all in the process.
It was at this point that Marie approached the Onondaga SBDC. She wanted to expand farm production, develop direct-to-consumer and wholesale sales and distribution, and finance the purchase of additional equipment and construction of a barn. Already enrolled in the WISE Center Accelerate: Business Plan Intensive, Marie requested SBDC assistance on a broad range of topics, from regulatory issues, business management, marketing, and fine-tuning her projections for economic development grants or business loans.
With prior experience in local agriculture, Neil Miller, Marie’s SBDC business advisor, provided her with information on New York State licensing requirements, contacts with established growers, resources for beginning farmers and listings of local food retailers and restaurants. After first failing to quality for a commercial loan, Marie successfully obtained $50,000 in funding through Farm Credit East, which she used to purchase farm equipment, construct a pole barn to purchase and winter-over heritage breed pigs and other livestock and hire two or more part-time farm hands. Marie and Jaya also successfully set up their business accounting, increased direct-to-consumer sales and are establishing wholesale relationships with several local businesses.
Neil Miller is a Business Advisor at the Small Business Development Center located at Onondaga Community College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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